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‘Trickle-down federalism’

Manny Valdehuesa .

A POLITICAL system must be anchored on the power or sovereignty of the people below, not dictated by officials from above—and certainly not manipulated by them.

Any change in the political system therefore should arise from the “Pinatubo” approach (grown and flowing from below), not “pinatulo” (trickled down from above).

Viewed from this perspective, it is premature to introduce the federal system unless the element of citizen participation is fairly well established and already institutionalized in society, especially at grassroots level.

For federalism to succeed, the people must not only believe in the idea but understand its dynamics and be active in its processes as befits their role in our democracy.


Unfortunately for the federalism advocates, citizen participation is not characteristic of our people thus far. Even in matters that directly impact upon their own community, hardly anyone takes interest or takes action.

Those who do participate in community affairs today are motivated mainly by self-interest, not by communitarian concern.

When public meetings or assemblies are held, hardly anyone of substance attends unless there’s a prospect of receiving personal favors—or handouts as simple or petty as free snacks and refreshment.

As for federalism, it hasn’t even been discussed in the DILG-initiated barangay assemblies that convene twice a year, in March and October.


It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the federalism movement (if it can be called that) has no roots where it counts—in the community where the sovereign citizens are.

There’s no one to blame but the advocates themselves for failing to bring their advocacy to the grassroots.

With all the resources and facilities of government and media placed at their command, they have not succeeded in popularizing the idea of a federal system.

As a result, what they’re advocating is nothing more than a vague notion in barangay neighborhoods. Worse, the traditional politicians (trapos!) are trying to cash in on the prospect of gerrymandering our Republic by carving out areas to control and life off.


Even among the elites of the barangay—who live in its gated enclaves, supposedly well-educated, professional practitioners, and wealthy—federalism does not resonate.

The advocates simply rely upon their presumptuous, unilateral, and unfounded claims of a general clamor to shift away from the presidential system of government.

They even resort to social media campaigns and rigged gatherings, trying to simulate public clamor for system-change.

But they shy away from debating the issue, as recently happened in the University of the Philippines when the stellar advocates of federalism promptly left after delivering their self-serving speeches, thereby preventing others from expressing their views or questioning their contentions.


What’s worrisome is that these wily advocates may employ the same tactics as the Marcos regime when “citizens’ assemblies” were convened to simulate public clamor for adopting the dictator’s agenda.

If the trolls and crowd manipulators succeed, can the time be far away when elections are rigged, votes are bought, the tallies manipulated—then declared as the popular will or the voice of citizen sovereignty?

This is the witching hour for Philippine Democracy. We must be wakeful and alert, able to react if the popular will is tampered.


(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN;  vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, government peace panel during the administration of Corazon Aquino; awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail:


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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